Marco Pantani’s Top 10 Moments
How could you not love a guy who styled himself a modern-day Pirate? Bandanas, ear rings, bleached goatee, “aargh matey – ‘tis time to plunder us some mountain stages…!” He had the legs to back it all up, and trashed the boring racing of the early-mid ‘90’s with his explosive style and ability. We recall Marco Pantani’s Top 10 Moments…
I first saw Marco Pantani emerge at the 1994 Giro d’Italia. I had never heard of him, but there he was on a break in the first big climbing day in the Dolomites, on his way to the stage victory. That day I figured him as a one hit wonder.
The next day I watched in awe as he tore the legs off Indurain, and tore the race open on the stage to Aprica. No one had been able to drop Indurain, but Marco tossed him overboard like a bucket of bilge water. It was an epic day, the racing was unbelievable, and I witnessed the arrival of the most exciting climber of our time.
And Pantani kept trying, a few days later on another epic day to Deux Alpes, I waited on the Izoard for the race to come by. The race approached from the south, climbing about 30km from of the French town of Guillestre. We watched across the barren landscape that is the Izoard, and when the bunch came into view, it was Pantani again – off the front (being shadowed by a Kelme rider), with a full minute lead over the pink jersey of Berzin. We went nuts as he stormed past us, climbing the last switchbacks to the summit in his trademark out-of-the-saddle style… He took 2nd in that Giro, and showed us once again how exciting bike racing could be.
I only saw Marco Pantini in person one time – at the start of the 1998 Milan-San Remo. It was a sunny day, but really crisp, and the riders were anything but nervous – the mood was downright jovial as La Primavera was about to get underway. I was struck by how small Marco was – but he parted the crowd like a man ten times his size. In the scrum at the sign on he appeared in front of me for just a couple of seconds and I captured this shot. It’s how I like to remember Il Pirata. – Pez.
This one is easy. Pantani’s best performance was in everything he did after the Giro Toss-out.
Coming back from being crushed by a car in a fashion that had doctors saying he would never walk properly again, much less ride, is nothing compared to any and all of the rides by Marco Pantani after his expulsion from the Giro.
In the years that followed, he rode with the weight of the entire Pro Peloton’s drug problems on his shoulders as if he were the only man that had a problem. The fact that he bore the burden for Pro Cycling and was still able to ride at all is the man’s best performance. The fact that he could manage to ride away at Courcheval, or be the only man to pedal stroke for stroke with an attacking Armstrong in the mountains (even if only for a stage…) or reel in attackers one after the other for Garzelli in his Giro win are all just bonus miles.
Indeed shocking news. Top 10 for me:
1998 Tour Two-Up: The big epic mountain day (I think it was up to La Plagne) in the pouring rain where he first took the yellow jersey from Ullrich (Jan flatted and bonked right at the base of the climb and 3rd place Bobby J went off the road on the previous descent). The very next day, a very ticked-off Ullrich makes a ferocious attack that absolutely shattered the field and left it many minutes behind. Only Pantani could follow the attack and he then nearly beat Jan in the two-up sprint.
2000 Giro: Shades of Hinault/LeMond again as he guides and mentors his teammate and protйgй Stefano Garzelli to his first Giro victory. Or was he really trying to win it for himself on the mountain stage where he and Garzelli attacked together and then Marco proceeded to put the hurt on?
Photo: Randall Butler
For me two rides stand out. The first was in the 1998 Tour de France. The weather was horrible, with thunder storms and very cold temperatures, even at the base of the climbs. The harsh stage went from Grenoble over the Col de la Croix de Fer, then up the Telegraph. After the summmit of the Telegraph Ullrich had become isolated from his teammates who were unable to maintain the pace. Luc LeBlanc kept hammering out attacks as the road climbed from the top of the Telegraph past Valloire and up towards the summit of the mighty Galibier. At Plan Lachat, where the climb reaches 10%-12%, Pantani attacked. No one could answer il Pirata. He made a brilliant climb up the last 10k of the Galibier then descended in the rain and fog with a show of courage that would be the envy of even Hermann Maier. When Pantani got to the base of Les Deux Alpes he was a man possessed. It was epic to watch as this climbing machine continued to attack all the way to the final summit under horrible weather conditions. He took the yellow jersey that day and wore it all the way to Paris.
The next year, in the 1999 Giro, Marco put on a second clinic. He punctured on the stage from Predazzo to Madonna di Campiglio. Two or three of his teamates waited and got him back to the wrong end of the peloton just at the base of the climb to il Madonna. One by one his team-mates pulled him up the climb until Marco finally launched himself like a space shuttle. No doubt he wanted to send a message to the peloton for attacking him when he had punctured. And so he did. He caught and dropped everyone on the climb to win the stage by over a minute. Unfortunately this was to be the beginning of the end.
The next morning Pantani was not allowed to start the stage. The day was a story of contrasts, like the highs and lows that were il Pirata himself. A heavy pall cast itself over Italy and beyond. The climbs on the stage that day were lined with fans in shock and
disbelief upon hearing the news of their fallen hero.
In some ways cycling has never come back from this one. Pantani was one of the most electrifying riders ever.
Arrivederchi Marco – a la casa.
Pantani was a desperate man at the 2003 Giro, and a shadow of his former self.
Jered Gruber – Germany
2000 Tour de France
Marco Pantani, definitely not at previous climbing capabilities, takes the win on Mont Ventoux after being dropped repeatedly, catching back on, attacking repeatedly, getting pulled back, and finally being let go, probably because the others were tired of his irritating attacks. It was incredible. That ride was 120%. This wasn’t the Pantani of old who could destroy nearly anyone when the road veered to the Heavens, this was a human Pantani that struggled, fought, and pulled off a magical ride on a climb as great as the man himself (we’ll forget about Armstrong for a moment here — even if Armstrong had taken the win, second place would have been an incredible ride).
Post 1999 Giro D’Italia
I’ve said it before, but I think his ride on the Zoncolan was just unbelievable. For me though, I think it was his time AFTER 1999 that really made Pantani a hero. His performances were few and far between, but when they came, they seemed all that more special, even more spectacular because you knew he wasn’t what he used to be, he seemed…human. Watching him get beaten to a pulp in the opening mountain stages of the 2000 Giro and 2000 Tour, and then coming back and delivering. That’s impressive stuff.
I feel bad though. People judge someone like Marco Pantani by how he rode a bike. That almost seems like a greater tragedy to me than dying at 34. He was a human being, he had friends, family, loved ones, people who knew him as more than a little man on television — people who loved and cared for him, and yet we remember him only for cycling achievements.
I’ve always been a HUGE Pantani fan, he made me want to climb mountains. I remember watching the 99 Giro the first time, then going out on a climb and riding out of my saddle, in the drops for as long as I possibly could, just to be like Pantani. An unfortunate loss, I always hoped he might return to the peloton with the form from his glory days.
Graham R. Jones
It was stage 16 at the 2000 Tour de France and I was standing at the 1km to go sign to the summit of the Hors Categorie (above category) Joux Plane. Jan Ullrich and a small group came up first. Nearly two minutes back a badly ‘bonked’ Armstrong came by alone and trying painfully to defend his Yellow Jersey. A long way back (about 13 minutes), and after most of the field had gone through, Marco Pantani and two of his faithful teammates, struggled past. At the end of the day Lance managed to retain his lead but Pantani abandoned the race.
Earlier in the day Marco had exploded the race in an attempt to dethrone Lance Armstrong. Pantani had succeeded in distancing himself from Lance and the USPS team over the earlier major climbs of that day (two Cat 1’s, a Cat 2 and a Cat 3). A long hard chase brought the field to a very fast run-in along the valley to the base of the Joux Plane. Marco was finally reeled in and Armstrong was seriously depleted after chasing the Italian.
Much had happened to fire up the battle between Marco and Lance. On Joux Plane Lance nearly lost the Tour. Marco lost a lot more. He never came back to his former brilliance after 2000. Drug scandals and other personal travails plagued him for the rest of his short life. 2001 and 2002 were nothing years in cycling terms for the intensely proud and enigmatic Pantani. In 2003 Marco came back to the Giro d’Italia and showed brief flashes of his former self, but his 14th place on GC was his very last race placing. In real terms the TdF stage up and over the final HC climb of 2000 was the last time we saw the ‘old’ Marco.
Nathan Diebert – Spain
Pantani has always been one of my cycling heros. He was at the top of his game when I first started road biking. I loved climbing and still do and always looked at him as just unbelievable.
My best memories of Pantani have to be in the 1998 tour and just his climbing ability in general. He always waited until the steepest part of the climb and then just stood up and dropped everyone.
His ride in the 2000 tour was also impressive as you could see he had to dig a lot deeper to perform but he still did and with style.
Finally last year’s Giro. When I say Marco riding hard again and really going for it, it made me so happy to seem him doing so and it made me think that maybe the time had really come for the resurgence of Pantani.
It is a real shame how Pantani has been treated since the 1999 Giro. Yes, he had a high hemacratic level, but that doesn’t necessarily prove anything. Look at the Jenson case from the ’03 worlds. If that were Pantani everyone would be looking for all sorts of reasons to peg her with doping. The insulin issue never really was all that clear. He did really have to carry the weight of the doping issue in cycling on his back.
To finish I’d like to pass on what was said today of Marco on TV here in Spain. “He has going to heaven completely alone, just as he won many of his greatest victories”.